So. Whitney Houston. This is belated, but I didn’t want to sour Valentine’s Day last week, or rush through the tribute she deserved. I think her death threw a spotlight on a fact I didn’t want to face; sooner or later, actors and musicians I grew up loving are going to die. Their deaths will not be as tragic to me or hit as close to home as a family member, but Whitney was a presence in my life through my early years, and her absence is weird now.
My mom played all of Whitney Houston’s albums in the house when I was growing up, and the late 80s and all of the 90s were Whitney’s best years. And when “The Bodyguard” came out, my parents rented it one night (how did my dad get suckered into that?) and I snuck out of bed and laid at the top of the stairs to watch it with them. It was the first R rated movie I ever saw. I was 6. I don’t remember a lot about the plot, but I remember thinking there was no way my parents expected me to sleep through it when Whitney’s voice was that loud and strong when she sang. When “Waiting to Exhale” came out a few years later, my mom played the soundtrack every morning while we were getting ready for school. I inadvertently know every word to almost every Whitney Houston song.
I was stunned when I heard she died. Our waitress told us at dinner the night it happened. The next day I put on a mix of songs while Boyfriend and I cleaned the house. Apparently, Whitney’s music transcended gender lines, because I totally caught him scrubbing the stovetop and singing along with “I’m Every Woman.” He’ll deny it, but it’s true.
Look, it’s not like Whitney Houston cured cancer, fought valiantly in a war, or penned a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that brought about world peace. Sure, thousands of people die every day in ways that aren’t self-inflicted, but just because Whitney was sort of a train wreck (thank you, Bobby Brown. exhibit A) near the end doesn’t make her death any less valid, or the loss of her talent any less sad. She had problems. But she also had one of the greatest voices of all time, and was the most Awarded Female Artist of all time. Say what you want about Michael Jackson, but he couldn’t hold a candle to her vocal capabilities. Whitney might not have been able to moonwalk across the stage in a fedora, but she could do sing.
This is the raw, isolated vocal track from her single “How Will I Know?” Someone obviously recognized how incredibly powerful it was and decided to include it on her first album, released in 1985. Those were the days before autotune was relied upon to make anyone sound like they could sing. She was also in her early 20s when she recorded it. This voice came out of a girl of 21.
R.I.P. Whitney. You’ll be missed. xo